Travis Blackley was the Phillies first of two picks in the Major League phase of last week's Rule 5 Draft. The 6' 3", left-hander just turned 25 a month ago and the Phillies believe that he's at a point where he could potentially handle being the fifth starter on their club. "He's a guy with a chance to compete for that fifth-starter job, a left-hander who can give you innings," said Mike Arbuckle, the Phillies assistant general manager of scouting and player development. And with a couple of question marks in the rotation, the Phillies may need a live arm to fill just that spot. After all, both Adam Eaton and the Phillies are being very tight-lipped about the results of an MRI that Eaton underwent not long after the season. And with Kyle Lohse still testing the free agent waters, it won't hurt to take a look at Blackley.
Blackley was a rising star in the Mariners' organization, but was dealt to the San Francisco Giants last April. He pitched well enough at Triple-A Fresno (10-8, 4.66) to get a couple of starts with the Giants, but struggled in those outings and lasted just a total of 4.2 innings. The key for Blackley though was that he was healthy, showing no ill-effects of labrum surgery that put him on the DL for the entire 2005 season. Arbuckle noted that Blackley is over the injury, but just going through the usual bumps that generally go along with recovery from such surgery. "We still think he's on the upswing from [shoulder surgery], and he continues to get better," said Arbuckle after the pick.
Even if Blackley doesn't win a spot in the rotation, it won't necessarily mean the end of his shot with the Phillies. He could always head to the bullpen and pitch out of middle-relief for the Phillies, handling another spot where the Phillies feel they could use some help.
Blackley throws an impressive change-up that works mainly because he uses the same arm speed and release point that he does with his fastball. Since the surgery, he's slowly moved his fastball back toward the 92 mph point that it was at before he suffered the injury. If he ever locks in his curve as a consistent pitch for himself, Blackley will be a much better pitcher than he has shown over the past couple seasons. It's that pitch that will be a key for him in getting Major League hitter out with regularity, especially if he's pitching as a starter.
The Phillies scouts were impressed with Blackley's aggressiveness and his confidence on the mound. Many times, pitchers will suffer a little in the confidence department after surgery, but Blackley has shown none of that.
Blackley should be Major League ready and after pitching at Triple-A for the entire season in 2007, the Phillies don't have any fears about bringing him in for a look. He'll likely get run out there a lot in camp and the Phillies will gauge his success. If they're able to add to their starting rotation or are convinced that Eaton is 100% healthy and won't self-destruct the way he did last season, Blackley's opportunity could come more as an option for the bullpen than for the starting rotation, but either way, the Phillies would like to hang on to Blackley and not risk having the Giants take him back if he didn't make the Phillies out of Spring Training.